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Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949) Lieder
Maria Bengtsson (soprano)
Sarah Tysman (piano)
Sung texts with English translations enclosed MDG922 2062-6 SACD [63:25]
A little more than a year ago I reviewed a really lovely Mozart arias disc with Maria Bengtsson, and now she is back with this Strauss recital. Good Mozart sopranos tend to be good Straussians as well, and with the previous disc in fresh memory I had high expectations when the new disc arrived. I had no reason to be disappointed. Anyone wanting to sample her ability needs only listen to Das Rosenband (tr. 5): The beauty of her voice, her breath control, the way she floats the tone in long legato phrases, softly and sensitively – and it is not just the singing per se, she also has something to tell the listener. Her way with the text reveals an understanding mind behind the notes. Most of these songs have of course been recorded hundreds of times by all the great lieder singers, so competition is keen but Maria Bengtsson stands up well by comparison. Almost all the most popular Strauss songs were composed before the turn of the century, but it is valuable that she includes some songs from that late lieder year 1918, when there was sudden gush of songs constituting Op. 66 – 69. Most interesting of these is, I think, the three Ophelia songs from Op. 67, a mini cycle that depicts the madness of the poor girl. The German translation is by Karl Joseph Simrock and the music is almost as mad and unpredictable as Ophelia herself. Harmonically it borders on atonalism and formally it is very loosely constructed. The short middle song (tr. 21) stands out from the surrounding tragic mood in its mercurial swiftness and lightness. In the final song we anticipate death approaching from the piano accompaniment, suggesting the flowing of water, which was to become her grave.
Included is also Strauss very last composition, Malven, written in November 1948, two months after the completion of Vier letzte Lieder. He sent it to soprano Maria Jeritza, who kept it until her death in 1982, aged 94. It was then sold and in 1985 Kiri Te Kanawa could première it and later record it. The song has since then become part of the standard repertoire. The mood is akin to the four last songs, in particular Beim Schlafengehen. Maria Bengtsson sings it inwardly and beautifully.
The majority of the songs here are however those songs lovers of German songs expect to hear, and they are exquisitely performed. Some of the highlights are an inward Morgen, the late Einerlei with magic pianissimo singing, a masterly Allerseelen (a personal favourite of mine), a brilliant Cäcilie, Heimliche Aufforderung and Die Nacht where it is impressive to hear how well she balances the dynamics. She also rounds off the recital, after the Ophelia songs, with an ethereal Ruhe meine Seele.
Dabringhaus und Grimm are very careful with the choice of recording venues, but strangely enough they keep any information to themselves. The sound is as natural as it can be with perfect balance between singer and piano. As I intimated above there is no dearth of good recordings of Strauss’s songs, but Maria Bengtsson’s disc is certainly competitive and if the repertoire is attractive no one should be disappointed in this issue.